Barriers to Democracy: The Other Side of Social Capital in Palestine and the Arab World

Amaney Jamal’s concise and thought-provoking book stands in a long and somewhat depressing tradition in the study of political change. Since the late 1950s, when political scientists and area specialists began studying the development of state institutions and party systems in countries then emerging from colonial rule, one school of thought has consistently emphasised the almost insurmountable barriers facing fledgling democracies. The root of the problem is that democracy is not a single thing, but a complex bundle of institutional mechanisms, individual orientations, and social attributes – the choosing of representatives through competitive elections, to be sure, but also respect for the rule of law, independent oversight bodies, a free press, the willingness of people to participate in civic life, legal protections for minorities, a culture of tolerance, and much else besides.

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